The Sunni, the largest group in Islam, and the largest religious denomination in the world.. In Arabic, as-Sunnah literally means "principle" or "path." The sunnah, or the behavior of Muhammad is described as a main pillar of Sunni doctrine. They believe...
- The first four caliphs (leaders) of the Muslim community were the rightful successors to Muhammad.
- That God has not specified the leaders of the Muslim community after Muhammad, and that the leader has to be elected.
- Sunnis recognize four major legal traditions, or madhhabs: Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Hanbali. All four accept the validity of the others and a Muslim might choose any one that he/she finds agreeable to his/her mind or personality.
Sunni and Shi'a Muslims differ on the legitimacy of the reigns of the Khulfa-e-Rashideen, the first four Caliphs. The Sunnis follow the Caliphates of all four, while the Shi'ites recognize only the Caliphate of Ali. This schism occurred following the death of 'Umar.
According to Sunni beliefs, Muhammad gave no specific directions as to the choosing of his successor when he died. At this time there were two customary means of selecting a leader: some had hereditary leaders such as Sultans or Kings, whilst some were appointed by the Ulema. There is no proof in the scriptures of the need of a Caliphate in Islam, however Al-Qaeda aims to establish a worldwide Caliphate through their Jihadism.
While Sunni and Shia Islam differ sharply on the conduct of a caliph and the right relations between a leader and a community, they do not differ on the underlying theory of stewardship.
In the initial stages the latter way of choosing leadership prevailed among the leading companions of Muhammad. Abu Bakr was elected as the first caliph or successor to Muhammad, with the other companions of Muhammad giving an oath of allegiance to him. The Persian citizens thought that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, should have succeeded him. However the appointment of the next two caliphs varied from the election of Abu Bakr. On his deathbed, Abu Bakr appointed Umar as his successor without an election by the community of scholars. Umar also altered the way his successor would be found. Before he was assassinated, Umar decided that his successor would come from a group of six. This group included Ali and Uthman, another companion of Muhammad. These six would have to establish from among themselves Umar's successor. Ultimately Uthman was chosen as Umar's successor, becoming the third Caliph. After the assassination of Uthman by the troublesome Persians, Ali was elected as the fourth Caliph.
- Shias believe God chose Ali to be Muhammad's successor, infallible, the first caliph (khalifa, head of state) of Islam. Muhammad, before his death, designated Ali as his successor.
- Religious Diversity and Children's Literature: Strategies and Resources, Sandra Brenneman Oldendorf - 2011, p 156